Otosirieze contributed to this feature.
Ebuka Njoku was a Theatre Arts freshman at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka when he started writing scripts. Through a mutual friend, he met Lorenzo Menakaya, who at the time was a popular host on the campus radio, Lion FM, and was already working in filmmaking. They began sharing ideas.
After making a short film, scored by Menakaya, Njoku dropped out in his third year, in 2012, and moved to Lagos to chase his dreams. There, he was advised to focus on one aspect of his craft: if he succeeded in it, he could expand his work. He focused on writing.
A year later, his screenplay for Bola’s Dirge, a short film about a young woman surviving poverty and sex work, won the Homevida National Short Script Competition and presented to him the chance to become a professional screenwriter. He then created Crazy, Lovely, Cool, a 2018 TraceTV original series about Nigerian university life.
Menakaya was on the cast of Crazy, Lovely, Cool, but was also shifting into production. He had entered the industry to pursue acting, appearing in My Confession, and, by 2009, he was also composing music for films and series, eventually racking up 35 score credits, including Room Service and 15 Minutes. While he continued to host events, including the 2019 Africa Movie Academy Awards (AMAAs), his mother’s death prompted him to seek to make his own films.
“There were a few friends who were also interested,” he recalled. “The plan was that we would get a story for the writer in the team and the others would contribute money so we’d make it. When I brought up a story, everyone told me how much I’d pay for them to get involved. That was when I knew I was alone, so I planned and funded it myself.”
Then Njoku reached out to Menakaya with the script for what would become his first directorial feature film: Yahoo+. “It was only natural that we’d produce it together, as we complement each other,” he told Open Country Mag.
Yahoo+ zooms in on a defining moment in the relationship between two childhood friends with big dreams. Struggling to find their footing in a film industry where connections reign supreme, they succumb to a promise of quick wealth through Internet fraud. Desperate, they venture into its darkest side, prepared to offer even human sacrifices just for a chance to leave Nigeria.
The film is shot in long takes, one per scene, and lit naturally, giving it the appearance of reality. The friends, Ose and Abacha, are played by Keezyto and Somadina Adinma, respectively; the better known Ken Erics, Echelon Mbadiwe as Abacha’s girlfriend Kamso, Ifeoma Obinwa, and Menakaya as a fraud boss complete the six-person cast.
“I knew that, for my first film, I would not get all the resources in the world,” Njoku told Nollywire. “So I decided, let’s go with a story set in one location, a few characters. For some people, that’s the beauty of the story, the fact that’s it set in one place with few characters.”
Yahoo+ had its Lagos premiere at The Annual Film Mischief, in 2022, and played at the Coal City Film Festival and at the Eastern Nigeria International Film Festival, where it won Best Narrative Feature and Best Actress for Mbadiwe. A lack of funds prevented a run at international festivals.
Lowballed or ignored by small distributors, a chance meeting with FilmOne executive Moses Babatope, and a good offer from FilmOne, took the film into cinemas. Then it streamed on Netflix in July and hit No. 1 on its Nigeria chart.
Njoku and Menakaya spoke to Open Country Mag about their inspiration and process for the film.
Njoku, you told What Kept Me Up that you were working in a bar when the idea for Yahoo+ came. What did you see in that moment of inspiration? Did you observe someone in the bar? Overhear a conversation? At what point did you decide on the eventual story that you wrote?
Inspiration comes in bits. Working in a bar gave me the opportunity to overhear and take part in conversations I wouldn’t be privy to on a normal day. Those conversations opened me up to the possibility that there was no spiritual means of making money. It also presented me with the opportunity to see “yahoo” and “runs” from perspectives different from what I had seen in movies. So I knew the story would have the demystification of blood money and of Yahoo Boys and Runs Girls characters.
What brought it together was the song “Isi Onwe,” by Flavour and Umu Obiligbo. I was shuffling songs on my laptop when it came up. I found myself carried away by the melody and the lyrics, so I kept it on repeat. It’s a song that highlights how sometimes we don’t know the cost of an adventure we want to embark on until it’s too late. The song opened my eyes to the direction of the story.
You have also said that it is autobiographical for you. How much of the details are based on the real and how much are imagined? Did you have to speak to people to verify things?
When I decided to chase my Nollywood dream in 2012, I thought it would come true quickly. I didn’t know it was going to be this tough. At a point I gave up. Lost in life, I decided to give “yahoo” a try. Guess what I was told: focus on learning the trade than on making money. That made me realize that the concept of easy money was a delusion.
I also rewatched Ridley Scott’s American Gangster around that period, and realized why I fell in love with movies, and what the end of the road I wanted to explore looked like. I was also scared of what I’d do if “yahoo” didn’t work out. I was scared I’d try “yahoo plus.” Making Yahoo+ was my way of expressing my fear of how I’d have ended up.
And yes, I spoke to a couple of people at different stages of the story development.
The film makes a connection between juju and organ harvesting. You told Afrocritik: “Maybe my theory of “yahoo plus” isn’t right, but, at least, when people watch the film, it will make them question their existing belief of what it is about.” Are you concerned about misrepresentation?
Of course, I am. There’s nothing as sad as feeling misrepresented in the media. Part of my mission as a filmmaker is to question the status quo, inspire people to find and own their truth, and lend a voice to the voiceless. And the only way to achieve that is by fighting misrepresentation.
One thing that stood out in the story was the complexity of the characters and how real they seem, doing what real people might do. How did you approach writing them?
They say life is the greatest storyteller, so I often borrow from her. The name Ose in Yahoo+ was borrowed from a guy I went to secondary school with. The name Abacha was from one of the neighborhoods I grew up in. Mansa was from history, Pino-Pino was from [the rap star] Phyno, while Ikolo is a senior colleague’s title.
When you write that way, you make yourself an instrument through which the story is told, and you let the story flow in through different life experiences, philosophies, and your psychic connections with the Universe.
I like the plot structure. You delve right into the story. Every scene feels necessary. Cutting off excesses would have been tasking. How demanding was the editing process?
Editing is my least favourite part of the film process — script editing, story editing, and the film editing itself. But over time, I’ve learnt how to kill my darlings.
Menakaya, you have said that funding was a severe challenge for production. How did you surmount it? How was it for you trying to keep production going?
At preproduction, we had a budget that felt like a lot. But going into principal photography, the whole money disappeared suddenly. We reached back to the EP [executive producer], but also enjoyed the goodwill and favour we got from our cast and crew, who were friends. I can’t exhaust this story in 12 years.
What is the most striking reaction that each of you have received from viewers?
Lorenzo: I have two reactions that I think are very important to me. The first is the selection and awards we received at the Eastern Nigeria International Film Festival. The second is the review by [the film critic] Oris Aigbokhaevbolo, especially the things he said about Ken Erics.
Ebuka: That’s a hard one. Yahoo+ has gotten lots of edifying positive reviews and demoralizing negative reviews. The most striking one would be someone asking me to make a Part 2 and suggesting story angles for it.
What hits differently when you reflect on producing Yahoo+, especially in comparison to your previous projects?
Lorenzo: I still can’t wrap my head around how we used the budget to achieve what everyone is talking about. I’ve been on a few high-budget projects that ended up box-office failures.
Ebuka: Honestly, it’s the fact that we did it our own way — telling the kind of story we love, in our original voices. The doubts were there. Mistakes were made. A lot of things went wrong, but we did it, and proved a long-time philosophy of ours: You don’t need all the money in the world to chase your dreams or make your first feature; you can start from where you are now. ♦
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this interview wrongly described Ebuka Njoku as the writer of Crazy, Lovely, Cool. He is, in fact, the show creator.
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